Technical Manuals: Why a Final Review-and-Reorganize Is Essential

When technical manuals are written by a team of engineers, developers or project leaders, organization is often by default. Each person or group is assigned a chapter or topic and then the manual is stitched together. Before your manual goes to your customers, make sure one person is assigned to review and reorganize the whole. If no one is assigned to that critical role, the following problems are inevitable:

  • One chapter contains 10 pages of overview and the next chapter runs to 300 tightly packed pages of information, detailed to level 1.9.8.15.23.
  • References to further information in one chapter are never delivered in the following chapters. But some information is repeated, again and again,¬†in every chapter.
  • The same figure appears in multiple places throughout the manual–and it’s slightly different each time.
  • Answers to the client’s most pressing questions are overlooked or buried so deeply in the text that they might as well not be there.

Installation and operating manuals are usually organized from first step to last. But without a review, that first step in the first chapter may begin too far along in the procedure (“everyone knows to flip the on switch”); may contain two or three paragraphs of information that should be broken up into smaller steps; may overlook important exceptions and¬†warnings; and may be set up in a completely different way from the instructions in the next chapter.

Unless you enjoy forcing customers to struggle or having your technical team and help line overwhelmed with customer questions, you should insist on that final review and reorganization step by one person. The time it takes will be more than made up by the time and customer goodwill that it saves.

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